Newspapers and others in the media have all but killed themselves—and their businesses—trying to figure out how to manage business change in the era of the Internet. It’s a huge problem getting people to pay for something they can lay their hands on for free, and most outlets have given away access to their content in the name of building on-line followings.

News Corporation, run with an iron fist by Rupert Murdoch, has been the most successful in getting paid for their content. While many of their properties (Fox Television and The New York Post, to name two) are available free in one form or another, Murdoch’s crown jewel, The Wall Street Journal, has steadfastly remained a pay-to-read publication, even on line. And Mr. Murdoch has made more than a bit of noise about how he’s going to find ways to keep separating us from our money if we want to read his stuff. Back in November he said that Amazon’s Kindle would be his weapon.

He lied.

Rupert Murdoch is putting his eggs in the Apple iPad basket.When the iPad becomes available in the next couple of weeks, one of the things you’ll be able to do with it is buy a subscription to WSJ, at a cost of $17.99 per month. This is either a great deal, a terrible one, or one that’s just plain unconscionable.

It’s a great deal compared to the print version, since having the Wall Street Journal delivered costs $349 annually, or a bit over $29 per month. It’s a terrible deal compared to reading it on the Internet (hmm . . . like, through the browser built into the iPad?), which costs less than $10 per month. The part that deserves attention, though, is the unconscionable issue.

Why do I have to pay you more to read something I’ve already subscribed to on another platform?

I can accept that if I subscribe to the print version I need to pay extra for the online version, because at some level you’re spending extra money to make it available to me that way (OK, that’s a stretch, but I’m trying to see all sides). And if you’re a print subscriber to WSJ, the on-line price does get discounted a bit.

So what’s the rationale for charging more to read it specifically on an iPad?

Once again, because News Corp has spent money creating an iPad application, there is a cost that needs to be recouped. Of course, that’s a fixed cost, so charging subscribers every month seems a little off. And if there’s some extra value delivered in the iPad application that isn’t available in the regular on-line version of WSJ, then maybe (maybe) there’s a rationale there. But if that extra value is “you get to see exactly the same thing on your big beautiful iPad screen that you would see in the print version” (umm . . . including all the advertisements), then there’s no value-add.

Then there’s the scary part of  technology: remember what I said about being able to bypass this matter altogether and just read the on-line version of WSJ through the iPad browser? It would be simple for WSJ to block that ability, since they see browser you are using when you visit their web site. “Using an iPad? No reading the regular on-line version of WSJ you’ve already paid for!”

Business Change is for everyone. Media companies, newspapers, and the like need to get paid. But Rupert, setting limits on your subscribers instead of giving them options just isn’t the way to go.

Let’s hope Mr. Murdoch, News Corp, and WSJ figure that out.

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